Hitter, hacker, grifter, thief return for IMDb TV series
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Feeling trapped by evil, episodic television?
IMDb TV provides “Leverage.”
Amazon Studios is bringing back our favorite hitter, hacker, grifter and thief. On July 9, the first eight episodes of “Leverage: Redemption” will debut on the streaming service’s free-with-commercials IMDb TV. Another eight episodes will follow later this year.
Timothy Hutton’s Nathan Ford will not return. His absence is explained in the first episode.
As teased in the original series’ finale, Parker (Beth Riesgraf), Eliot (Christian Kane) and Hardison (Aldis Hodge) are running the jobs. Nearly a decade after their last mission together, the “Leverage” team members have branched out and developed Robin Hood-esque subsets around the world.
True to form, Parker remains a little kooky – and, yes, oftentimes upside down or hanging from something. Hardison is using his tech skills for the greater good. Eliot is, well, still punching people in the face.
Though the show has been off the air since Christmas 2012, Riesgraf said it has continued to be popular with audiences.
“It was so amazing. When we got the call, everyone had clearly been anticipating this for a really long time. And then there were talks of movies; there were talks of spinoffs, and this and that. It was just so exciting when we finally got the call that it was actually happening. And I think all of us were a bit in shock. Like, ‘Oh, wait, is it really happening? Is it?’ ” she said in a phone interview this week. “And then, at the table read, we all sat down and started reading the words and it just clicked. And to hear each character's voice come back like we didn't skip a beat was magical. I mean, we all had goosebumps; it was kind of emotional. It was like, whoa, we really can pick right back up where we left off, because we know each other so well. That chemistry was still there, and everybody was being their character like immediately. It was really, really cool.”
The “Leverage” team welcomes two additions: Noah Wyle’s corporate lawyer Harry Wilson, and Aleyse Shannon’s Breanna Casey – Hardison’s foster sister.
After years of turning a blind eye to shady practices, Harry has a change of heart – and a desire to peg-drop his former clients. Breanna, meanwhile, is called upon to fill-in for Hardison on occasion – and likes to remind everyone she’s the smarter sibling.
“They're amazing,” Riesgraf said. “I was lucky enough to read off camera with Aleyse during her audition. And I felt it immediately that she was going to be the right person for it, because she was just so present. And every single moment was authentic and alive, and she was reacting to everything. It was really important to our executive producer that whoever this new team member was be able to slide in and get that timing and get that vibe of the show right. Aleyse just immediately had it.”
She said, “The circumstances in which we find them both are really fun. And then, as it goes, you start to see like, ‘Oh, is this going to work out with this guy, Harry? Like, what's the deal?’ And you start to learn more and more about his backstory.
“Obviously, Noah, as an actor, has the chops for comedy and drama. His timing’s amazing. And he just grooved right in with everybody's chemistry. It was so great.”
Original-recipe “Leverage” always had great guest stars – Saul Rubinek, Mark Sheppard, Jeri Ryan and Kari Matchett, among them – and their characters were often key to the show’s most gripping and heart-pounding moments.
“We've got some really good ones coming up,” Riesgraf said. “I'm not allowed to give any spoilers, but I can say there's one in particular, in the second batch of eight, that I'm extremely excited about, because I got to direct this person. And it was my first time directing television, and they were a dream – and someone I've been a fan of my whole life. So, that one’s really exciting (laughs).
“There was no shortage of amazing talent; that's the great thing. And I think since the popularity of the show has grown, more people are aware of it, and more people's families are aware of it. So, that buzz was super-cool to see people coming in and being like, ‘I always wanted to be on the show,’ or, ‘Gosh, my family's gonna freak out; they love the show so much.’ And we did have a lot of that. And we had some really great local actors, as well, come in and just blow everybody away. We got really lucky.”
Riesgraf wouldn’t say if any old foils would return – “I think it's kind of a new game this time around,” but teased, “You will see a familiar face; I can tell you that. There's going to be a familiar face in there. Someone who's kind of beloved by the fans.”
She explained, “The game has gotten even bigger and scarier, because the world has changed, right? That really is reflected in the storyline. So, the tone of some of the episodes is a bit darker than what we've done in the past. But it's always balanced with the lightness and adventure and comedy that the fans love and look forward to as well. The stakes are a bit higher in some of the episodes than maybe in previous episodes.”
One of the biggest challenges in bringing “Leverage” back was what to do with Parker. Having gone on a five-season journey to normalcy (I mean, as normal as Parker will ever get), where would Parker be after all these years? How would fans find her – how would they want to find her?
“I think it was a challenge in a way, because we really did sort of wrap up her arc really nicely in that first run,” Riesgraf said. “We got her to a place where she was much more confident and certain and felt like she belonged with this family and was no longer having to be a lone wolf. And so, I think that conversation – that was one of the first things we talked about – was where does she go now?
“We were very careful not to normalize her, because she wouldn't be Parker, right? So, we took all the eight years of her running crews with Hardison and Eliot and decided, ‘OK, there's been growth and development, and she's been running teams internationally, and having a great time.’
“But when one of the team members, Sophie, needs a little help, Parker really is the one who understands that and sees that this is an opportunity to help their friend, bring everybody back together, and be a support for Sophie.”
Though Riesgraf seemingly hasn’t aged a day since season five ended, she admitted, “I continued to train and work out and physically get ready for the role, because you never know – as the actor in a show like this – what they're going to write in terms of stunts, or what she's going to be climbing or breaking into. (Laughs) And one of the first things was I started hanging upside down off my couch, to start getting used to that feeling again – because you do, actually – believe it or not – have to build up to a minute to two-minute takes, if you have to be upside down.
“Things like that were super fun. And I would find myself thinking, ‘What kind of job do I get to do this other than Parker? Like, this is incredible.’
“And, yeah, I had actually been watching the series, rewatching it, and then got the news, and then just watched as much as I could again, just to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything; just reminding myself of all her journeys. And then it was like, I did feel a little intimidated for a second. But then I thought the second I anticipate what I'm supposed to do, I'm gonna be in trouble. I just need to do what I've always done and just live and breathe in her skin and, you know, work with my fellow actors, because everything comes from that chemistry with these guys.
“So, I think it was exciting. It was a little nerve-wracking. But the second I was back with everybody, I think I felt really certain that it was all going to work out.”
Riesgraf always enjoys doing stuntwork. “I am hoping we can push it even further next season. Knock on wood, we get that,” she said. “We've got some really cool stuff. I think in the second eight, there's one of my favorite stunts. I don't want to ruin it for anybody. But we had all the elements happening. And it was a lot of fun. It's something I've never done as Parker before. That was super exciting.
“And also, Parker's learned a few things from Eliot; so, she's fighting a bit more. We decided to drop a few Easter eggs in there, to show the growth and that the relationship there has continued. It was important for Christian Kane and I to find certain beats, like, ‘OK, so what do you think he would have picked up from her? And what would she have made him do?’ And there's mention of it throughout the season, which is really fun. So, also getting to create new skills based on all that stuff was really fun.”
Riesgraf said Amazon has been a big support: “We knew that they were fans of the show. And Amazon really acknowledged, like, ‘Hey, this fan base just continues to grow. This is amazing.’ They recognize that and got really excited about it. And I know certain execs are personally fans of the show as well. And it just felt like such a great vibe.”
As such, the hope is for additional seasons of “Leverage: Redemption.”
“I think that's always the hope,” Riesgraf said, “It's like, to give everybody closure in some ways on certain storylines, so that you feel if it didn't come back, you'd feel OK about it.
“I think, personally, no one's going to be OK if it doesn't come back (laughs). Because people have been looking forward to this thing for so long! They're going to want more, regardless of how we wrapped this season up. So, I think, yeah, of course, the writers are really smart, and our showrunner’s awesome. And they thought all those things through. But at the same time, there's so much room to play still, though, I think the door being left open a little bit is a good thing.”
More About ‘Leverage’
Chris Downey and John Rogers didn’t need to hit 77 homeruns.
There were no streaming services pillaging viewers from cable networks when their series, “Leverage,” debuted on TNT in 2008. People didn’t have half as many entertainment options as they do today.
Downey and Rogers could’ve crafted seasons where the storyline needle moved a little in the first, last and “Sweeps” episodes, and then plugged in a formula for the remaining weeks. That’s what audiences were faced with on a nightly basis – whether flipping on a drama or a comedy.
Cops and robbers. Heroes and villains. Something happens; the good guys react, there’s conflict, and evil is defeated.
Yay, good guys.
“Leverage,” in particular, could’ve easily fit into such a mold – and, in fact, 77 times in a row, that’s basically what happened.
But Downey and Rogers were smarter than that.
Instead of cookie-cutter white hats, they gave us a mastermind and his hitter, hacker, grifter and thief. It wasn’t above-board law and order-types chasing down the black hats; it was the world’s top criminal masterminds deciding to fight for the underdogs of the world.
And these “reformed” do-gooders weren’t squaring off against mythical creatures or over-the-top kingpins, but with people you might hear about on the 6 o’clock news.
Though the plot was basically the same – the “Leverage” team was going to take down someone corrupt – the adventures were so unique, and the missions so much fun to watch unfold, that you didn’t want to miss an episode.
Plus, in terms of overall storylines, the needle often moved with regard to season- and series-defining moments.
In many ways then, “Leverage” was ahead of its time – a series that probably fits better with the TV landscape of 2021 than with 2008.
That thought likely landed in the minds of Amazon Studios and IMDb TV execs, when they greenlit a return to the world of “Leverage.”
For those new to the series, let me explain.
In the first iteration of “Leverage,” world-renowned, but down-on-his-luck former insurance agent Nathan Ford was tasked with retrieving stolen airplane plans in return for a hefty payday. His client, Victor Dubenich (Rubinek), offered to pair him with an elite team of “recovery specialists”: fight expert Eliot Spencer, computer whiz Alec Hardison and burglar-extraordinaire Parker.
Nate soon realizes he’s playing for the wrong side – Dubenich has conned him, looking to take a rival’s specs and make a bazillion dollars. With his team in hot water – and, you know, not paid – a plan unfolds to right this wrong. Working alongside thespian Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), Nate and company get their man – score a retirement-level reward – and realize they can use their collective powers to take down other Victor Dubenichs of the world.
Over the course of five seasons, fans learned of Nate’s failed marriage, a son who died when his own insurance company refused to finance experimental treatment, and his love for Sophie. She would reciprocate those feelings while becoming a mentor and den mother to Eliot, Hardison and Parker. Not quite cutting it on stage, Sophie was unmatched in reading people and coming up with imaginative characters to infiltrate opponent strongholds.
Eliot had done some not-so-nice things while soldiering his way around the world. Unequaled in hand-to-hand combat (he hates guns), he would become the team’s protector – and, surprisingly, voice of reason.
Hardison was using his gift to rule in the “age of the geeks.” That is, until he realized what it meant to help the less-fortunate. Once he discovered his feelings for Parker, Hardison was all-in.
“Feelings” and “Parker” couldn't have been more polar-opposite. Left to fend for herself at a young age, Parker didn't develop social skills. Instead, she discovered a knack for pickpocketing and a love for repelling into, out of, and down just about anything. Finally finding a family, the girl once called “20 pounds of crazy in a 5-pound bag” becomes a
fully more-functioning human being by series end.
Former cable standout series "Leverage" is returning after a decade off the air in a continuation of TV's favorite rob-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor storyline. "Leverage: Redemption" premieres July 9 on IMDb TV. Pictured, from left: Noah Wyle (Harry Wilson), Gina Bellman (Sophie Devereaux), Christian Kane (Eliot Spencer), Aldis Hodge (Alec Hardison), Aleyse Shannon (Breanna Casey) and Beth Riesgraf (Parker) on the set of IMDb TV Original Series "Leverage: Redemption." (Amazon Studios photos by Alfonso Bresciani)